Smooth-Bore Musket, Napoleonic Tactics, Rifling, Minié Ball, Percussion Cap, Breech-Loading, Brass Cartridge, Machine Gun and Indirect Fire

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 14th, 2012

Technology 101

A Muzzle-Loading Smooth-Bore Musket had an Effective Range of about 50-70 Yards and was Slow to Reload

Why do quarterbacks spin the football when throwing a pass?  Because a good spiral will make the football act like a gyroscope.  Stabilizing the ball in the air.  Giving it better aerodynamic stability.  Allowing the quarterback to throw it farther.  Faster.  And more accurately.  In tight traffic.   Threading the needle between defenders.  And into the hands of his receiver.  The quarterback’s target.

But we didn’t confine spinning things to hit targets to only football.  We use it someplace else, too.  And have for quite awhile.  In rifles.  And guns.  Which had a profound impact on the battlefield.  Rifling dates back to the fifteenth century.  But it didn’t really enter the battlefield until the 19th century.  But before we started cutting grooves in rifle barrels to spin projectiles smooth-bore weapons ruled the battlefield.  And shaped the tactics of the day.  What we generally call Napoleonic tactics.  Mastered by Napoleon Bonaparte.  But used before him.  When we used large formations of soldiers on the battlefield.  That we moved in formation thanks to intense drilling and discipline.

A smooth-bore musket had an effective range of about 50-70 yards.  Or little longer than an NFL quarterback could throw a football.  They weren’t extremely accurate because the ball they fired was smaller than the barrel.  Which let the ball bounce off the walls of the barrels before exiting.  So they didn’t always fly perfectly straight.  Also, because the ball was smaller than the barrel there was blow-by of the expanding gasses that forced the ball out of the barrel.  Reducing the muzzle velocity of the weapon.  These muzzle-loading weapons were also slow to reload.  They required many steps to reload after firing.  Taking some 15 to seconds for a good infantryman to reload.  While standing up in the middle of the field of battle.  This short effective range and slow reloading time led to the Napoleonic tactics.  Maneuvering large formations of infantry into long lines.  Where they stood shoulder-to-shoulder to concentrate their fire.  They moved in formation to within effective range of the enemy and fired on command to hit the opposing line of soldiers with a large volley of fire.  When they reloaded opposing cavalry tried to charge their line to break up their formation before they could fire again.  If the infantry brought down effective fire on the opposing line of infantry they might break the enemy’s ranks.  If so, cavalry would charge to route them off the battlefield.  If not, the infantry would close ranks with the enemy after a few volleys and charge with fixed bayonets.  If a wall of approaching gleaming steel bayonets did not break the enemy’s ranks the lines came to gather and they engaged in hand to hand combat.

A Rifled Musket firing the Minié Ball increased the Effective Range of the Infantryman to about 300 Yards

Smooth-bore muskets gave way to rifled muskets.  Which helped with accuracy.  But didn’t make much difference on the battlefield.  Until Claude-Étienne Minié developed a new conical shaped bullet with a hollow base.  The Minié ball.  Made from soft lead it expanded when fired.  The expanding gases pressing the base of the Minié ball into the grooved barrel of a rifle.  Preventing the gas blow-by.  And imparting a spin on the bullet.  Greatly increasing the effective range of an infantryman’s rifle.  Approximately 4 times the range of the smooth-bore musket.  Which meant you could be 4 times as far away from the enemy and still be able to hit your target.  So instead of about a half of a football field you could hit an enemy reliably from 3 football fields away.  Also, they delivered these new bullets to the infantryman wrapped in a paper cartridge that also included gunpowder.  The soldier bit off the end of the cartridge, poured the premeasured amount of powder into the muzzle, followed by the Minié ball, rammed it home and placed a percussion cap (a small metal cap with a shock-sensitive explosive in it) on a hollow nipple above the packed powder.  When the infantryman pulled the trigger the hammer fell on the percussion cap.  This ignition source then spread through the nipple to the packed powder in the barrel.  Igniting the powder.  Expanding the soft lead of the base.  Pushing it and spinning it out of the barrel.  A soft, fat projectile.  That when it found its mark made big holes.  Tore through muscle.  And shattered bone.  Most wounds in the chest or abdomen were fatal.  Wounds in arm or a leg usually resulted with the amputation of that limb.

These were great advancements in weaponry.  Making the infantryman a much more powerful and lethal force on the battlefield.  If used in battle with the proper tactics.  Unfortunately, when armies first used the new Minié ball rifle they still used Napoleonic tactics.  Europeans in the Crimean War (1853 –1856).  And the Americans in the Civil War (1861–1865).  The first modern wars.  That killed hundreds of thousands of soldiers.  About 600,000 each.  And maimed more.  Because they still fought shoulder to shoulder.  Marching forward under a hail of long-range and accurate enemy fire.  Of soft, fat projectiles.  That just decimated their ranks.  Soon the Americans learned to build fortified defensive positions.  On the high ground.  And let the enemy attack them.  Because an offensive attack against a fortified defensive position proved suicidal.  As Union soldiers learned.  So before some of the later battles these soldiers invented something that became standard issue in following wars.  The dog tag.  So someone could identify them after they died in combat.  So their families could bury them at home.  These fortified defensive positions evolved into trenches.  Such as used during the Siege of Petersburg.  A siege because offensive attacks against infantry in a trench proved suicidal.  A lesson, sadly, that few learned.

By the end of the Civil War the tactics finally caught up to the technology.  Napoleonic tactics were out.  And modern war was in.  Infantry didn’t mass on the field of battle.  Resplendent in their uniform behind their colors.  Instead they were filthy and firing from behind cover.  And battles weren’t a Sunday afternoon in the park.  But lasted days.  Where soldiers often went hungry.  Endured constant shelling.   And kept their heads down for fear of snipers.  Also, it was now total war.  War against the soldiers in the field.  And the resources that kept them in the field.  Rail lines.  Telegraph lines.  Factories.  Ports and harbors.  Food supplies.  And even the morale of the enemy combatant’s citizens.  Because attacks against all of these made it difficult to continue to wage war.  Which ultimately shortened war.  But making war truly hell.  And most cruel.  But hopefully ending it quicker and saving lives in the long run.

The Brass Cartridge with Bullet and Percussion Cap allowed Breech-Loading and much higher Rates of Fire 

There are a lot of lessons to learn from the Crimean War.  And the American Civil War.  Which they quickly forgot by 1914.  With the outbreak of World War I.  Where combatants went off in the spirit of a Napoleonic war.  Resplendent in their colors.  Full of patriotic fervor.  But not for long.  For in this most modern of all wars to date they still foolishly massed infantry on the field of battle.  And attacked fortified defensive positions.  A war that still used horses for cavalry charges.  Despite massive advancements in technology.  Like breech-loading rifles that fired ammunition consisting of a bullet pressed into a brass cartridge full of gunpowder.  Also pressed into this cartridge was a percussion cap.  Making a self-contained round.  That they could press into a clip or a magazine.  Which could be loaded into a rifle while lying down behind cover.  Greatly increasing the rate of fire.  Without having to expose the rifleman to enemy fire.  These new cartridges could also be loaded into canvas belts.  And fed into a new weapon.  The machine gun.  A horrific killing machine in WWI.  Where a gun crew could maintain a rate of fire great enough to wipe out companies of infantry at a time.  Who were foolishly advancing over open ground against an entrenched defensive position.  As if the Crimean and American Civil War never happened.

Artillery was bigger and more accurate, too.  And unlike their Civil War ancestors, you didn’t have to see what you were firing at.  Artillery batteries could be miles from the battlefield.  Out of sight of the enemy.  Instead aiming at them with geometry and maps.  By calculating azimuth (left and right) and elevation angles (up and down) to adjust the gun for an accurate but indirect fire.  Forward observers used new electronic communication to adjust this indirect fire onto target.  Breech-loading and recoil dampening devices (also unlike their civil war ancestors where the recoil threw the cannon backwards) made these not only rapid firing but accurate.  Raining hell down on that advancing line of infantry advancing into a hail of machine gun fire.  Meaning that when the order was given to go over the top of their safe (but miserable) trenches to assault the enemy’s trenches many would die.  Giving the huge death toll of World War I.  Where some 10 million combatants died.

WWI is perhaps the greatest man-made disaster in history.  And not just for the horrific death toll.  But what that death toll did.  WWI changed the world.  Not just the lines on the map.  But the very nature of nations.  The size of governments.  And economics.  Not because of the advancing technology.  But for the misunderstanding, and misuse of, that technology.  Because for some fifty years their tactics played catch up to the technology of the day.  Which, sadly, is more of the rule than the exception.  Because it’s senior military personnel that make policy.  And these generals are still planning to fight the last war.  Instead of the next war.

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Advanced Civilization takes a Huge Step Forward with the Bronze Age

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 2nd, 2011

Technology 101

Bronze gave the Artisans the Tools to Unleash their Human Capital and Increase the Quality of Life

Two things put man at the top of the food chain.  The ability to think.  And hands that could build the things we thought of.  In particular, tools.  First it was sharpened sticks and antlers.  Stone and flint.  These were steps forward.  But the quality of these tools was poor.  They weren’t ideal.  They were the best we could chip out from what we could find.  And they didn’t hold a sharp edge very long.  But that all changed with metallurgy.

Enter the Bronze Age.  Where man could cast pretty much any tool he thought of.  By pouring molten metal into a mold.  This was a huge step forward.  Because we could make tools to fit the job.  Any job.  They were strong, too.  And could hold a sharp edge for a longer time.  This exploded the growth of cities.  Farms.  And urban life.  Artisans now had the tools to unleash their human capital.  Cities became rich in finished goods.  Things that increased the quality of life.  And attracted the attention of envious neighbors.  And the uncivilized barbarians beyond the civilized frontier.

With bronze they could make better weapons to defend themselves.  And they did.  The Sumerians used bronze to create one of the most formidable defensive units of the time.  The phalanx.  A formation of soldiers armed with bronze-tipped spears.  This spear could reach further than a sword.  So swordsmen attacking a phalanx were at a disadvantage.  The phalanx could stab with the spear before the swordsman could stab with his sword.  The same principle of the defensive mechanism of the porcupine.  The phalanx was such a formidable defensive unit that it saw service for many centuries.  Letting civilizations grow because they could defend themselves from their envious neighbors.

It took Regional and Long Distant Trade to get the Copper and Tin to Smelt into Bronze

The Stone Age lasted a long time.  And the change to the Bronze Age didn’t happen overnight.  Because you don’t mine bronze.  You make it.  When you melt two or more metals together.  And the two most popular metals of the time were copper.  And tin.

The Sumerians used bronze tools and weapons.  But the Fertile Crescent didn’t have any ore deposits.  So the metals necessary to make bronze were not indigenous to the Fertile Crescent.  That land between the Euphrates and the Tigris.  So how did a people with no ore deposits smelt copper and tin into bronze?  Trade.

You have to dig copper out of the ground.  You have to dig tin out of the ground.  And you typically don’t dig copper and tin out of the same mine.  Worse, tin wasn’t as close to the Sumerians as copper was.  So it took regional trade.  And long distant trade.  To get the ore to smelt into bronze.

Trade gave us the Bronze Age and Advanced Civilizations

The Bronze Age created advanced civilizations.  But it took an advanced civilization to make bronze.  So what came first?  The Bronze Age?  Or advanced civilization?  That’s an easy answer.  Trade.

An advanced civilization could create great things.  As long as they had the ingredients to make those things.  Some of these things were indigenous to their civilization.  A lot of them were not.  So you traded.  To get the things you needed but didn’t have.  With the things you had.  And the things you built.  From both.

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LESSONS LEARNED #26: “If we need Big Government to protect us from ourselves, then our public schools can’t be the best place to learn.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2010

WE ARE WHAT they teach us.  And here is a little of what our teachers taught us.  And a little of what we learned by observation.

WHEN I WAS in grade school, our teachers went on strike.  It was great.  Another week or so of summer vacation.  But I saw a curious thing.  Some of my classmates were carrying picket signs.  And there they were, walking with the teachers.  I could not understand why anyone would want to help to end an extended summer vacation.  That’s all I knew about a teacher’s strike.  I had no idea why they didn’t want to go back to work.  I just knew it meant I didn’t have to go back to school yet.

The signs my fellow students carried said something about making our schools better.  As kids typically don’t like being in school, I couldn’t imagine they thought much about improving the educational system.  Other than greatly shortening the school day.  And school year.  But giving a pay raise to our teachers?  Giving them more benefits?  How, exactly, was that going to make school better?  I mean, if they got more pay and benefits, our education would get worse, not better.  They would just transfer money from the classroom to the teachers.  Unless the city raised property taxes to replace the classroom money that was given to the teachers.  And that would only increase the household costs of these kids’ parents.  Meaning less presents at Christmas.  Couldn’t these kids see the folly of their ways?

Of course they couldn’t.  They were just useful pawns.  They hadn’t the foggiest idea why teachers go on strike.  The teachers told them what to say.  What to think.  And they lied to these kids.  They weren’t striking because they wanted more money and better benefits.  Which they were.  No.  They told these innocent children that they were striking so they could have a better art department.  A better music department.  Better field trips.  That’s why these teachers were on the picket lines.  For the children.  And that every time there were cuts in the classroom, it was because of the greed of their parents who didn’t approve a millage.  Or who bitched about rising property taxes.  It was never their OWN greed.  Never that.

WE HAD A mock election when I was in 7th grade.  It was an ‘exercise in democracy’.  I remember voting for the Democrat candidate.  I don’t know why.  I knew nothing about politics.  I had only recently quit playing with my toy cars.  I was still reading The Hardy Boys mystery novels.  And thinking about the pretty girls in class.  What I don’t remember was spending much time thinking about the presidential election.  But there I was, voting for the Democrat candidate.  Who won in our little mock election.  But how did I, as well as my fellow students, know enough about politics to vote for the Democrat candidate?

Obviously, they taught us what to think.  That the Democrat candidate was the better candidate.  Because he was for the working man.  And cared about the little people.  That the Democrats cared about education.  Not profits.  All these touchy feely things.  Which was about all a kid could understand.  A kid can’t understand monetary or fiscal policy.  The intricacies of foreign policy.  They don’t have a clue about those things.  But kids do know that they should play nice.  And that’s what the Democrats are all about.  Playing nice.  And providing political muscle for the teachers’ unions in exchange for votes.  And obedient little minds of mush that will one day become voters.

I HAD A speech/debate class in high school.  Our teacher used the latest in progressive teaching methods.  A lot of touchy feely stuff.  Feel more than think.  We often did these exercises where the class as a whole debated the pros and cons of a particular position.  One day we went through a list of five or so.  I found the last one interesting.  It was about a ‘death ray’.

I had recently watched a program about nuclear weapons.  I learned that the size of their warheads was a function of the accuracy of the weapons.  They needed a big radius of destruction to guarantee the destruction of the target.  This is true for all weapon systems, conventional or nuclear.  The less accurate they are, the bigger the destructive force required.  (Whereas smart weapons today can have smaller warheads because they can be steered onto target.)  The more accurate the weapon, the less destructive it can be.  The less collateral damage there would be.  Less civilian dead.  The lesson described the ‘death ray’ as a weapon of pinpoint accuracy.  Based on what I just recently learned, I thought that it would be very interesting to discuss the pros of such a weapon.

When we finished discussing the position before the ‘death ray’, he said something like it was obvious that no one would argue for such a weapon system.  So there was no point in discussing it.  And then, as an afterthought, he said “unless someone does” with a condescending smirk.  I raised my hand.  I began to make some positive points.  He cut me off.  There was to be no discussion in favor of any weapon system in his class.  Turns out he was anti-war.  Free speech was one thing but not when you disagree with the program.

TWO BOOKS THAT that stand out from high school that were required reading are The Grapes of Wrath and Johnny Got His Gun.  You couldn’t find a couple of more depressing books if you tried.  The Grapes of Wrath was about the plight of a family who lost the farm during the dust bowl of the Great Depression.  In it you learned that bankers were evil.  Rich people were evil.  That Big Business was evil and exploited the poor.  Whereas poor people were virtuous.  And only poor people helped other poor people.  That Big Government was good and helped the poor people.  That FDR’s New Deal was good and helped the poor people.  That unions are good and protect those who Big Business exploits.  You get the picture?  Democrats good.  Republicans bad.  Because the Democrats take care of the little guy.  And evil bankers and fat cats are all Republicans.  Or so we were taught.

Johnny Got His Gun is an anti-war book.  It’s about a U.S. veteran of World War I.  Joe Bonham.  He lost about every part of the human body you could.  And yet they kept him alive.  I read it in the 10th grade.  Young and impressionable, I saw the folly of war.  War hurt good, young men like poor Joe Bonham.  (Incidentally, the name ‘Bonham’?  It’s from the French ‘bon homme’, good man.)  A pity only the anti-war crowd read it.  Apparently no one read it in Germany or Italy or the Soviet Union.  Maybe if their citizens did read it World War II would not have broken out.  Thankfully for the free world, though, men did serve in the armed forces despite what happened to poor Joe Bonham.  And they saved liberty.  And the burning of books did not spread further.  And books like this, because of men who did pick up a gun, remain in the public school curriculum.

Of course, you know why they (the public school teachers) are anti-war, don’t you?  It’s simple.  Any money spent on the military is money not spent on them.

I HAD AN electronics teacher in high school who was really cool.  He let us drink coffee in class (or, should I say, cream and sugar with some coffee).  He’d send a student across the street to buy donuts to eat with our coffee.  And he taught us how to build little black boxes that could unscramble scrambled television.  He was also a pretty good teacher.  A PNP transistor symbol?  The arrow was P-N (peein’) on the base.  (An NPN transistor symbol pointed away from the base.)  The resistor color code?  Bad boys rape our young girls but Violet gives willingly.  The whore.  (Hey, this stuff was funny when you’re only 16 years old.)  He even set up an interview for me at an electronic repair shop.  He liked being a teacher.  But he enjoyed doing concrete flatwork, too.  One of those things he did to pay the bills while in college.  And kept doing after college.  And that’s what he did during the summer, the peak of the construction season.  And made good money doing it.

MY MOM WORKED as a volunteer at my grade school.  She got to know the teachers pretty well.  She even went to their homes.  One lived not too far away from us.  I went with her once or twice.  Talk about surreal.  Seeing your teacher outside the school.  Acting so un-teacher-like.  Wearing something she doesn’t wear to school.  Having fun.  Laughing and joking.  And seeing her being a mom to her own kids.  That was weird.  We treated her politely and with respect in school.  Her kids whined “maaaa” at home just like I did when I was at home.  My teacher was just a normal person.  Human, almost.

But what really struck me then was that though they lived in the same general area as we did, they had more.  Bigger house.  With nicer stuff.  A newer car in the driveway.  More presents under their Christmas tree.  And in bigger boxes.  It was a ‘blue-collar’ neighborhood.  Her husband was a ‘blue-collar’ worker.  Just like my dad.  But my mom volunteered.  My teacher was, well, a teacher.  The ultimate second income in a two income family.  Good pay and benefits.  And no child care to worry about.  Teachers are off when their kids are off.  Holidays.  Breaks.  Snow days.  And, of course, summer vacation.  It just didn’t get better for a working mom.

IT IS INTERESTING that people become more conservative with age.  They may start out Democrat.  But after working awhile or raising a family, they often become Republican.  Not all of them.  But a lot.  The net number of people changing from Democrat to Republican far exceeds those changing from Republican to Democrat.  If there are any.  Other than for political reasons (in a desperate attempt to get reelected by switching parties).  That’s why the Democrats depend on the youth vote.  Because the youth vote is an uninformed voted.  They haven’t been deprogrammed yet.  They still toe the party line.  Because they don’t know any better.  Yet.

As we work and live in the real world, though, away from the insulated life of home or the college campus, things change.  We get older.  And wiser.  Less naive.  Less idealistic.  Less ignorant.  That’s why there is a net change from Democrat to Republican.  We grow up.  And start thinking for ourselves.  And try as they might during our public school indoctrination, we stop being sheep.  Eventually.  We strop bleating their mantra.  ‘Big Government good.  Private sector bad’.  Why?  Because we see that public school teachers and government workers live a lot better than we do.  This privileged few, this ruling elite, continue to take from us and respond with condescending arrogance when we complain.  Angry that we don’t mind our place in the lower strata of society.  Where we belong.

And they are nervous.  They can only maintain their elite status as long as we pay for it.  The more we learn, though, the less we are willing to support this aristocracy.  And they know it.  So they try to keep us dumbed down.  For an educated constituency is the greatest threat to Big Government.  And the public school system.  This self-proclaimed aristocracy.

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